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January 4, 2013
The Keeper Reaper
Outfielders for 1/4/13
Ellsbury followed up his monstrous 2011 season with a shoulder-subluxed and ineffective 2012 that burned those expecting a repeat. All told, he played 74 games, batted .271, hit four homers, and stole 14 bags. Now that the price has come way down, a healthy Ellsbury is an intriguing asset for 2013.
On the basepaths, Ellsbury was still effective, succeeding in 82 percent of his stolen base attempts and pacing 30 swipes per 150 games. Given John Farrell’s penchant for running, Ellsbury should approach a steal total of about 40-to-50 in 2013—common for him in his productive seasons.
After not breaking into double-digits for home runs in his two previous full seasons, Ellsbury notoriously exploded for 32 homers in 2011. Nobody expects him to approach that total again—although truthfully, nobody really knows what to expect from him power-wise. In 2011 he was able to turn on inside pitches, but in 2012 he was most successful on the outer third of the plate. With good health, I’d expect Ellsbury to partially regain that pull-power stroke, leading to 15-20 homers.
Given his low strikeout rate and ability to post high BABIPs, Ellsbury should have no issue posting a batting average in the .290-to-.300 range, and batting at the top of the Red Sox lineup should allow him to approach the century mark in runs. While this projection may seem optimistic, it is admittedly dependent on Ellsbury staying healthy, something he hasn’t been able to do two of the last three seasons. Those injuries were, however, clearly due to the moving bodies of Adrian Beltre and Reid Brignac in 2010 and 2012 respectively. As long as Ellsbury is able to keep to himself, I’d bet long here and not be afraid to keep a player of his immense talent.
Finally, Fowler delivered the “breakout” season we’ve been waiting for, batting .300 with 13 homers and 12 steals in 450 major league at-bats. For the first time since 2009, he provided some sleeper value to those who took a chance on him late, though it still wasn’t more than a few dollars profit.
His .300 average was buoyed by a league-leading .390 BABIP, which—even for a hitter of his quickness playing in Coors—you just don’t expect to repeat itself. For the first time in the past three years, Fowler had more steals (12) than triples (11). You would think if you can get to third from the batter’s box on a ball in play, you’d have little trouble going from first to second on a pitch. Alas, instincts are also required on the basepaths, and Fowler has demonstrated over the past three years that he lacks such things. At this point, I wouldn’t expect soon-to-be 27 year-old to learn how to capitalize on his speed more efficiently. His power output last season was a nice surprise that can be sustained, but he simply does not put the ball in the air enough (career 34 percent fly-ball rate) to further develop his power game.
As much as anyone, Fowler has benefitted from playing half his games at Coors with a career .384 wOBA at home and .312 mark on the road. With the Rockies likely a year or two away from contending and Fowler nearing free agency, his name is surely to be come up in trade rumors every trading deadline and offseason going forward, as it already has. Unless he lands in Texas, just about any trade would reduce his offense output. For 2013, Fowler is still a solid .270 hitter capable of 15 homers and 20 steals if he accrues a full season’s worth of plate appearances, but a top 90 player he is not.
Werth’s attempt to rebound from a disappointing first season in Washington took a three-month hiatus when he fractured his forearm in early May diving for an outfield fly ball. Werth managed to return to the field in August and hit well in his first month back but still managed just one homer and one steal all month. He finished another disappointing year with just five homers and eight steals in half-a-season of play.
He did rebound in batting average, posting a .300 mark that was a function of a career-low 17 percent strikeout rate and a career-high .356 BABIP. While neither of those two rates are so far out of his career norm that you should expect major regression, a little regression from each reduces his projected average into the .260s.
Arm and wrist injuries are known to sap power, and it’s fair to assume that Werth’s injury is largely responsible for his career-low 5 percent HR/FB ratio. Assuming he will have overcome those effects by the start of the 2013 season, a return to a 12-to-14 percent rate would project him to hit 20-25 homers. Despite his 34 years of age, he has remained particularly efficient on the basepaths, stealing eight in ten attempts last year. In a full season, he should be able to swipe 20 bags.
As a 20-20 hitter that doesn’t hurt you in average, Werth’s value is right at the edge of the top 90 players. What is likely to determine his fate is whether the Nats lineup and his spot in it provide the run and RBI opportunities to make him a five-category player.